Geopolitics

Why It's Far Too Soon To Start Betting On Biden

The protests, pandemic and poor U.S. jobs numbers all seem to spell trouble for President Donald Trump. But his challenger has a few disadvantages of his own.

Participants in a BLM march attach a pro-Biden sign to their van in Palm Beach, FLA.
Participants in a BLM march attach a pro-Biden sign to their van in Palm Beach, FLA.
Luis Rubio

-Analysis-

MEXICO CITY — In democracies that allow for reelection, the incumbent enjoys obvious advantages. And yet, I'd venture to say that in the upcoming U.S. presidential election — granted it's still several months away — challenger Joe Biden is in the driver's seat, provided of course that he doesn't blow it, which is a big if.

Biden is the Democratic nominee in all but name, in large part because the party's establishment decided that only a moderate — someone who can win over the political center — will be able to beat President Donald Trump. At the same time, he doesn't have the strongest track record when it comes to elections outside his (tiny) state: Delaware. He ran twice before for president, in 1988 and again in 2008, but dropped out early both times, mainly because of his gift for the gaffe, especially when addressing the press.

Inside his party, he began the election process trailing the more leftist Bernie Sanders, and his challenge now will be to clinch the Sanders voting base — which tends to consist of younger, more politicized electors — without losing the center.

Elections have two parts: the candidates and the context. And in this particular contest, President Trump has three big advantages and one, enormous disadvantage.

Biden's challenge now will be to clinch the Sanders voting base without losing the center.

The first advantage is incumbency, with all the benefits that entails, including resources and, unlike the divided Democratic camp, no internal competition. The second, which is particular to him, is that he can use and manipulate his hordes of supporters to control primary election processes for Senate and House candidates. Typically, only a small number of the most motivated party members vote in primaries and among Republicans, these are precisely the people who see Trump as a star, similar to the way backers of Sanders feel on the Democratic side. The third advantage is a Republican party that is drifting and lacks a clear political project other than keeping power.

His disadvantage is the timing of the election — against the backdrop of a pandemic, a recession, widespread protests and heightened job losses. The latter, in particular, tends to have a huge impact on the likelihood of reelection.

Biden has his own advantages, along with some equally pronounced disadvantages. The first advantage — and one that is of superlative value among the country's more "modern" sectors — is that he isn't Trump. Indeed, it seems that with the exception of his immediate family members, nobody really cares about Biden. They seem him, rather, as a means to an end: a vehicle, in other words, for getting rid of President Trump. This provides Biden with an enormous opportunity, but also makes him an easy target.

The second advantage is that he can count on an energized party eager to beat Trump. But that party is also divided between those with a progressive agenda — the Sanders/Elizabeth Warren base — and those who believe moving to the center is the only way to win over independent voters. These are often termed "Reagan Democrats," people who used to vote Democrat but switched sides out of concern that the party moved too far to the left. The fear is that if Biden leans too much to the progressive side, they'll be dissatisfied with both candidates and may even stay home on polling day.

AE_BIDEN_INSIDE

Joe Biden jokes with a woman at his campaign event in Newton, Iowa.—Photo: Jack Kurtz

This puts Biden in a bind, between consolidating his left flank (or winning those Democrats who shunned Hillary Clinton in 2016) on the one hand, and the center, on the other, especially in key states like Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania that gave Trump his victory and also among Hispanic and African-American voters. His positions in coming months and the running mate he picks will define his strategy, and thus his likelihood of winning.

Biden's great disadvantage is, well, Biden. His age (he turns 78 in November), frequent political gaffes and an apparent distraction when answering questions all make him vulnerable. He has the support of numerous media outlets that often cover up for him, but there is no guarantee this could last. His prospective vice-president will thus play a key role here, as she might end up as president. The powers in his party are inclined toward an African-American woman for that post. And there are plenty of good candidates, though what is politically correct does not always translate into votes.

As for Mexico, what really matters isn't so much who wins or loses, but our overall relationship with the United States. Leaders come and go — on both sides of the border — but our neighborly relations go on. History has shown that the most important thing is not to lose sight of our priorities, because when we do, regardless of who's in charge at any particular moment, that's when the problems begin.


*Luis Rubio is the president of the Centro de Investigación para el Desarrollo (Cidac, "Research Center for Development"), an independent institution dedicated to research in economics and politics.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
Geopolitics

Erdogan And Boris Johnson: A New Global Power Duo?

As Turkey fears the EU closing ranks over defense, Turkish President Erdogan is looking to Boris Johnson as a post-Brexit ally, especially as Angela Merkel steps aside. This could undermine the deal where Ankara limits refugee entry into Europe, and other dossiers too.

Johnson and Erdogan in NYC on Sept. 20

Carolina Drüten and Gregor Schwung

-Analysis-

BERLIN — According to the Elysée Palace, the French presidency "can't understand" why Turkey would overreact, since the defense pact that France recently signed in Paris with Greece is not aimed at Ankara. The agreement covers billions of euros' worth of military equipment, and the two countries have committed to come to each other's aid if they are attacked.

Although Paris denies this, it is difficult to see the agreement as anything other than a message, perhaps even a provocation, targeted at Turkey.

Officially, the Turkish government is unruffled, saying the pact doesn't represent a military threat. But the symbolism is clear: with the U.S., UK and Australia recently announcing the Aukus security pact, Ankara fears the EU may be closing ranks when it comes to all military issues.

What will Aukus mean for NATO?

Turkey has long felt left out in the cold, at odds with the European Union over a number of issues. Yet now President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is setting his sights on another country, which also wants to become more independent from Europe: the UK.

Europe's approach to security and defense is changing dramatically. Over the past few months, while the U.S. was negotiating the Aukus pact with Britain and Australia behind the EU's back, a submarine deal between Australia and France, which would have been worth billions, was scrapped.

The EU is happy to keep Erdogan waiting

Officially, Turkey is keeping its cards close to its chest. Addressing foreign journalists in Istanbul, Erdogan's chief advisor Ibrahim Kalin said the country was not involved in Aukus, but they hope it doesn't have a negative impact on NATO. However, the agreement will have a significant effect on Turkey.

"Before Aukus, the Turks thought that the U.S. would prevent the EU from adopting a defense policy that was independent of NATO," says Sinan Ülgen, an expert on Turkey at the Brussels think tank Carnegie Europe. "Now they are afraid that Washington may make concessions for France, which could change things."

Macron sees post-Merkel power vacuum

Turkey's concerns may well prove to be justified. Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel always argued for closer collaboration with Turkey, partly because it is an important trading partner and partly because it has a direct influence on the influx of migrants from Asia and the Middle East to Europe.

Merkel consistently thwarted France's plans for a stricter approach from Brussels towards Turkey, and she never supported Emmanuel Macron's ideas about greater strategic autonomy for countries within the EU.

But now she that she's leaving office, Macron is keen to make the most of the power vacuum Merkel will leave behind. The prospect of France's growing influence is "not especially good news for Turkey," says Ian Lesser, vice president of the think tank German Marshall Fund.

Ankara fears the defense pact between France and Greece could be a sign of what is to come. According to a statement from the Turkish Foreign Ministry, the agreement is aimed "at NATO member Turkey" and is damaging to the alliance. Observers also assume the agreement means that France is supporting Greece's claims to certain territories in the Mediterranean which remain disputed under international law, with Turkey's own sovereignty claims.

Paris is a close ally of Athens. In the summer of 2020, Greece and Turkey were poised on the threshold of a military conflict in the eastern Mediterranean. Since then, Athens has ordered 24 Rafale fighter jets from France, and the new pact includes a deal for France to supply them with three frigates.

Photo of French President Emmanuel Macron and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on September 27 in Paris

French President Emmanuel Macron and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on September 27 in Paris

Sadak Souici/Le Pictorium Agency/ZUMA

Erdogan’s EU wish list

It's not the first time that Ankara has felt snubbed by the EU. Since Donald Trump left the White House, Turkey has been making a considerable effort to improve relations with Brussels. "The situation in the eastern Mediterranean is peaceful and the migrant problem is under control," says Kalin. Now it is "high time" that Europe does something for Turkey.

Erdogan's wish list is extensive: making it easier for Turks to get EU visas, renegotiating the refugee deal, making more funds available to Turkey as it continues the process of joining the EU, and moderniszing the customs union. But there is no movement on any of these issues in Brussels. They're happy to keep Erdogan waiting.

Britain consistently supported Turkey's ambition to join the EU

Now he is starting to look elsewhere. At the UN summit in September, Erdogan had a meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the recently opened Turkish House in New York. Kalin says it was a "very good meeting" and that the two countries are "closely allied strategic partners." He says they plan to work together more closely on trade, but with a particular focus on defense.

 Turkey's second largest export market

The groundwork for collaboration was already in place. Britain consistently supported Turkey's ambition to join the EU, and gave an ultimate proof of friendship after the failed coup in 2016. Unlike other European capitals, London reacted quickly, calling the coup an "attack on Turkish democracy," and its government has generally held back in its criticism of Turkey.

At the end of last year, Johnson and Erdogan signed a new free trade agreement, which will govern commerce between the two countries post-Brexit. Erdogan has called it "the most important treaty for Turkey since the customs agreement with the EU in 1995."

After Germany, Britain is Turkey's second largest export market. "Turkey now has the opportunity to build a new partnership with the United Kingdom and it must make the most of it," says economist Ali Kücükcolak from the Istanbul Commerce University.

Erdogan is well aware of this, as Turkey is in desperate need of an economic boost. Inflation currently stands at 19%, and the currency's value is consistently falling. Turks are feeling the impact on their daily lives: food and rent are becoming increasingly expensive, while salaries remain unchanged.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS
MOST READ